THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Safe and sound near tomorrow's finish line
Taking the Chequ(ck)ered Flag

From sea to shining sea - and back.

I didn't get to see inside, sadly
Philadelphia street scene
Not to give the two Eds ideas...
Old Philadelphia houses
Your humble blogger outside the home of the original and only real Tom Paine
Tom's plaque and his house's "for sale" sign
Slightly over-restored, perhaps?
I went for a head-clearing walk this morning in Philadelphia. It has many fine buildings and apart from a surprising number of beggars on the streets, seems like a prosperous city. Everyone I have spoken to there (including a long and jolly chat with two fellow-lawyers in the bar last night) has been friendly. Apart, that is, from the National Park Service rangers at the Liberty Bell building. I arrived there, very overheated after a brisk walk in the hot sunshine, only to be chased away by rude and panicky rangers. This was because (I eventually discovered from talking to a calmer one) of a bomb scare. He didn't call it a bomb of course. He said "we are checking out a suspect device."

I can't find any information online about it, but it seems from Google to be a fairly regular occurrence. I made my way back to my hotel, disappointed at having seen neither the Liberty Bell nor Independence Hall. I guess I just have to go to Philly again, which would be no hardship. 

I had set myself a very small programme for today, to give a safety margin in case of any last-minute problems. All I planned to do was visit the only house Tom Paine every owned, in Bordentown NJ. I knew it was a dentist's office and there was nothing to see but the plaque outside, but it was my only way to pay my respects and a fitting final destination for my tour.

Poor Tom is not nearly as well remembered as the other authors of the American Revolution. He was worth five Jeffersons and a Washington in contributing to its success, but suspicions about his religious views cost him popular affection and he was all but forgotten for many years. The town has made no attempt to cash in on the connection. There was not so much as a Tom Paine keyring to be bought. The local historical society conducts a monthly walking tour, apparently, and the town celebrates his birthday but that's not quite Mount Rushmore, is it? 

I arrived to find the centre of town closed off for its annual classic car show. I was just figuring out how near I could park to his old gaff in these circumstances, when the lady womanning the barriers waved me through. It did not occur to her that I would come to Bordentown in such a car if not to display her! Once more Speranza, whom certain doubters warned me scarily would get me robbed or worse in America, had opened the way. A steward waved me into a display place, but I told him it was all an error and parked her discreetly around the corner - still within the exclusion zone and within sight of Tom's place. I used to judge concours d'elegance competitions at classic car shows years ago and neither wanted her to suffer the humiliation of her road-soiled appearance being critiqued, nor to put in the hard graft to clean her up to concours standards for judging!

Truth to tell she looked better than most specimens there. I don't understand nostalgia for the enormous, tail-finned, aesthetic horrors that almost killed Detroit. Still less do I enjoy "hot rods" - especially when made from real classics that could have been beautiful.

These were mostly not the classy American cars I saw at wonderful Gilmore or the splendid Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum. There was a pretty little MG TD however, slightly modified by the owner to make it possible for a big chap to sit in her - which he allowed me to do to my great delight. There were some cool and well-presented muscle cars - I do like those, as you might guess. There was also a Jaguar XK120. And, though I would not personally have given a second of my life to their preservation, let alone the years of skilled toil deployed by their owners, I did enjoy seeing some of the "Hot Wheels" cars I owned as a boy at full size.

Mostly though, I will remember the day for standing by the original and best Mr Paine's front door and walking around his town, imagining him there. Bordentown has kept its centre alive with a good variety of small shops. It is a pleasant little place and I could imagine living there - an idea I toyed with over lunch, having noticed that Tom's old house is up for sale. How cool would it be to move to America and publish "The Last Ditch" from Tom's house? It's just a dream however. I would not want to live so far from the Misses Paine, my family and friends. The Thomas Paine Societies on both sides of the Atlantic should raise the funds to buy it though and make a fitting memorial to him. I would donate time and money to that project with great pleasure.

Over coffee before setting off to New Jersey I had an interesting chat with a USAF chaplain and his wife who had a rather splendid muscle car in the show. The reverend gentleman had a dark view of the future, fearing not only for the Euro, but economic collapse in the United States triggered by its unsustainable debts. Having prepared personally for the worst, he is hoping for better - as must we all. I tendered the more optimistic view that the economic consequences of the debt crisis will finally let the politicians of the Western welfare states off the vicious hook of "free lunch" voter expectations. He didn't buy it and, in darker moments, I am not sure I do either. Still that's all the more reason to seize life by the throat and live it as well as we can, while we can. Despair is not a useful option.

I like writing that I drove the New Jersey turnpike today. I know it's just a road, but it seems so cool to a Sopranos fan. So I will write it again. I drove the New Jersey turnpike, thinking sadly of the late, lamented James Gandolfini who died this week at the age of just 51. His portrayal of Tony Soprano was the keystone of that magnificent show and now we can never hope to see him in a Hollywood movie based on it.

On arrival (after a lot of sitting around in traffic jams caused by road works) Speranza drew her usual crowd of admirers. I had the pleasure of telling them about the New Jersey to New Jersey via 47 other states trip that she and I had just completed. Though the doubters had told me I was mad, the assembled New Jerseyites thought it "awesome" and told me that they wished they could do the same. I am inclined to agree. Part of me is nursing the mad idea that I should get Speranza serviced here and do it all again!

Perhaps not. Family, friends and home beckon now, but man what a bad-ass ride it has been!